Fiery brief irks high court
The Virginia Supreme Court has called in Roanoke lawyer Stan Barnhill
to discuss a filing that sharply criticized the court for a ruling
against one of his clients.
By Michael Sluss, The Roanoke Times - May 20, 2006
RICHMOND -- A prominent Roanoke lawyer has been called on the
carpet by the Virginia Supreme Court for filing a petition that
harshly criticizes the court's ruling against one of his clients.
Stan Barnhill, an attorney with the firm of Woods Rogers, has
been ordered to appear before the court next month for a hearing
to determine whether the justices should impose sanctions against
him. The court could suspend Barnhill from practicing before
the state's highest judicial body for a fixed period, according
to an order issued earlier this month.
Barnhill, who represents The Roanoke
Times in legal proceedings, already has filed a brief expressing
his "deepest apology
and sincerest regret" for the tone of his March 27 petition
to the court. He acknowledged that he made "a grave mistake
and serious error in judgment" and that he offended the
seven-member court. He declined to comment on the matter on Friday.
In the petition, Barnhill requested a rehearing of a case involving
a lawsuit filed by the victim of a 2003 shooting outside a Holiday
Inn Express in Northwest Roanoke. The Supreme Court on March
3 partly reversed the ruling of a judge on the Roanoke Circuit
Court and concluded that the victim, Ryan Toboada, has a right
to sue the motel for not protecting its customers in a crime-plagued
area. Justice Lawrence Koontz of Salem wrote the opinion, which
the court unanimously supported.
Barnhill represented the motel's owner, Daly Seven Inc. of Danville.
In his 11-page petition for rehearing, he challenged the legal
reasoning behind the court's ruling and used potent language
and imagery in his argument.
"George Orwell's fertile imagination could not supply a
clearer distortion of the plain meaning of the language to reach
such an absurd result," Barnhill wrote.
Barnhill also wrote in the petition
that his client has "little
expectation" that the court "will revisit the lack
of wisdom in its pronouncements."
"Ryan Toboada may be the unfortunate victim of a crazed
criminal assailant who emerged from the dark to attack him," Barnhill
wrote. "But Daly Seven will be the victim of a dark and
In a rule to show cause order issued
May 1, the Supreme Court indicated that Barnhill's assertions "raise significant
questions as to whether the petition was filed in 'good faith'
and for a proper purpose." The court set a June 6 hearing
Virginia Beach lawyer Steven Emmert,
who publishes the online Virginia Appellate News & Analysis, said it is "extremely
unusual" for the state's highest court to take such action
against a lawyer.
Barnhill filed a brief Wednesday expressing
regret for the "inappropriate
rhetoric" he used in his petition. The brief states that
the court order "has had a profound and personal impact" on
"He has embarrassed not only himself but also his partners
and their law firm, which he deeply regrets," Barnhill's
The brief also indicates that Barnhill
filed the incendiary petition without following his firm's
policy of having it reviewed
by another lawyer. Had he done so, the brief states, the petition "would
not have been filed as it was."
Barnhill asked that Daly Seven be allowed to withdraw the petition
for rehearing and decide whether to file another one in its place.
Barnhill no longer will participate in the case, according to
Barnhill's brief calls the episode "an
aberration in the practice of a lawyer who has engaged in extensive
Barnhill noted that he has served on the Virginia State Bar
Disciplinary Board, the Sixth District Ethics Committee, and
the Virginia State Bar. He also has served on the board of the
Legal Aid Society of the Roanoke Valley.
Emmert called Barnhill's response to
the court order "the
best thing he could have done."
"I believe the court will view this as a good-faith effort
of contrition," Emmert said. "There is no question
that the mere existence of the show cause order is a sanction